March 29th – 31st, 2012
Montreal, Quebec is old world, yet modern and oh so French (although both French and English are more common to hear on the streets than in Quebec City). There are many things to see and do in this city but one thing you must absolutely do is try Montreal smoked meats (salted and cured beef brisket with spices that is allowed to soak in the flavour for about a week, then it is hot smoked and finally steamed). Preferably queue up outside the famous Schwartz’s with everyone else and patiently wait for the taste delight that is inside (I went with a local friend Sophie who said this was a must and oh was she correct!). They have been making their speciality smoked meat sandwiches for over 80 years and they are awesome!
Also when you are wandering about the city try some Poutine (fries with gravy and fresh cheese curds) which originated from Quebec. Make sure you eat it also preferably smothered in smoked meat! Never underestimate how awesome Montreal smoked meat is (my mouth is watering as I write this)!
Take a wander through old Montreal to see impressive cathedrals, courthouses, the city hall, Nelson’s Column and some of the original homes and buildings of the city. At night-time many of them are lit up and look fantastic.
Notre-Dame Basilica completed in 1829 and built in a Gothic Revival style is particularly impressive. The interior is quite amazing and is reminiscent of much older cathedrals found in Europe.
You can literally spend hours wandering around the 32 kilometres / 20 miles of “Underground City” tunnels beneath the Montreal downtown that connects businesses and transport portals (it was designed so people do not have to walk in the cold of winter). There are literally thousands of shops and eateries hidden away down there on multiple levels, even the Atrium Le 1000 an ice skating rink!
One building above ground in the modern downtown area that has an interesting history is the Sun Life building. It was once the largest building in the Commonwealth and during World War Two the British crown jewels and those of other European nations were kept there for safekeeping.
A vigorous walk up to the top of Mont Royal, the mountain that overlooks the city is well worth the effort especially if it is a nice day. The view of the city below and surrounding countryside is quite spectacular and there are plenty of nice places to explore on the top of the mountain too.
Montreal is a very walkable city but they also have a very good Metro system to whisk you around and out to places such as the Olympic Stadium. The stadium built for the 1976 Olympic Games is still in use today (during my visit there was a swimming tournament going on). It is a very interesting and futuristic looking design, almost alien in appearance and it has a very unique feature – the worlds tallest inclined tower and observation deck (The Montreal Tower) which is 175 metres / 574 foot tall and on a 45 degree angle! As a comparison the Leaning Tower of Pisa is only on a 5 degree angle.
The Montreal Tower offers spectacular views of the city and Mont Royal, plus an interesting birds eye view of the very unique stadium roof and the nearby Biodome and Botanical Gardens. Interestingly although the stadium was used in the 1976 Olympics the roof and tower were not actually completed until 1987! This was due to various problems at the time including labour disputes. Apparently the stadium was actually only half complete when the games opened!
The futuristic looking Biodome building was once a cycling velodrome used in the 1976 Olympic games but it now holds something very different. In 1989 the velodrome closed for renovations and in 1992 it reopened as the Biodome which is an excellent indoor wildlife and nature exhibition that represents four distinct nature zones of the Americas – Tropical Rainforest, Laurentian Maple Forest, Gulf of St. Lawrence and a Polar zone (Labrador Coast and Sub-Antarctic Islands) each with applicable habitat and wildlife. This place is really impressive and has a wide collection of animals from fish (including Piranha and massive Atlantic Sturgeon) and reptiles (Caimans) to birds (including the incredibly cute Puffin), penguins (King, Gentoo, Rockhopper and Macaroni) and River Otters and Lynx cats.
Laurential Maple Forest
Gulf of St. Lawrence
So that’s a quick snapshot of Montreal. It is a city that is also famous for the arts and festivals. Alas I wasn’t there at the right time of year but would have loved to have seen some acts at the International Comedy Festival. Oh well something for next time!